Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.
Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.
Jill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.
“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”
Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).
The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.
This past Friday night felt like a home game for Al DeMott.
Family, friends and former players were packed into the stands to watch him set the MHSAA record for career wins by a girls basketball coach.
There was a postgame celebration on the court, and a congratulatory message displayed on the video board.
Of course, DeMott and the Wolves hadn’t just won a game in their home gym – they had done it at Unionville-Sebewaing.
But anywhere in the Thumb can feel like home.
“USA, they really did a lot,” DeMott said. “They put a thing up on the board, their coach came out after the game and said all kinds of nice things. USA was a very generous host. They went above and beyond.
“That’s the way it is in Thumb basketball; we all look after each other and support each other. In all sports, really. When one team goes on a run, the whole Thumb gets on the bandwagon.”
Sandusky’s win was the 798th of DeMott’s career, putting him ahead of retired Detroit Country Day coach Frank Orlando on the all-time list.
It’s a record more than 40 years in the making, as DeMott took over the program in 1979. In that time, Sandusky has won 23 league titles, 27 District titles, seven Regional titles and earned an MHSAA Finals runner-up finish (1999). The program hasn’t had a losing season since 1982.
“I’ve been doing it a long time,” DeMott said. “Our program has had a lot of success. We’ve had a pretty good run going for a lot of years. The numbers don’t really mean that much to me. It’s nice for our program that it’s been successful as it has. That it’s been steady for a long time. There are a lot of good people that have done a good job.”
DeMott’s career record stands at 799-206, as the Wolves won another game Tuesday night to push their season record to 9-2.
Before he’s done, the record will no doubt be well above 800. How far above depends on how long DeMott sticks around. Right now, there’s no immediate plan to stop.
“Every year, when you get done with the year and your season ends, you’re tired,” DeMott said. “But I’m still having a lot of fun doing it. Another thing, God’s blessed me with good health. I’ve been fortunate to keep going strong with this. I’ve been working on trying to get someone to take it over – I’ve got a granddaughter in eighth grade, and I would like to sit and watch her.”
One thing that keeps DeMott going is the support he gets from those around him in the program.
He’s had the opportunity to coach with his three daughters, Desiree, Allison and Marissa, who also played for him. His longtime assistant coach and childhood friend, Ray Lee, has been on the staff since 1982. DeMott said that during his time at Sandusky, he’s had only six or seven JV coaches.
“I have such a good support system,” DeMott said. “I have loyal assistant coaches.”
The community, both in Sandusky and throughout the Thumb, also has shown DeMott tremendous support, even as he was struggling to get the program off the ground in the early years.
“With the start I had here, if somebody got off to the start I did, they’d be gone, probably,” DeMott said. “It’s been phenomenal. I can’t believe all the texts and emails and calls I’ve got. People have gone above and beyond. There’s been a lot of support. We’ve always got really good support.”
And, of course, nothing can beat the support that DeMott gets at home, as his wife Tammy has been there since the beginning.
“My wife has been a saint,” DeMott said. “When I first started doing this coaching, she was a little iffy about it. When I first started, I was working at the bank and I only had two weeks vacation. We used to use one of the weeks of vacation to go to team camp. She stays up and does stats with me. She’s my biggest supporter I’ve ever had.”
All that support has allowed DeMott to build a consistent winner at a public school with an enrollment just over 300 students.
He started a youth program fairly early in his time at Sandusky, and it’s still going strong. He said there were 40 third and fourth graders in the gym this past Saturday starting their latest season.
As kids grow up in the program, they dream of one day playing for the varsity team and DeMott.
“This achievement couldn’t have been accomplished by a more humble and deserving person,” said Haley Nelson, a 2018 Sandusky grad who played for DeMott before playing at Saginaw Valley State. “In Sandusky, playing under Coach DeMott is something you look forward to as soon as you start playing basketball in elementary school. He’s built a standard as to what Sandusky girls basketball is, and it made you want to work hard to live up to it. The program he’s built is a testament to his hard work and dedication year-round. I think it would be tough to find another high school coach as committed to their program as Al is. He sees each of his players as people far beyond what they can contribute on the court, and for that reason, the impact he has on his players extends far beyond basketball.”
Nelson is one of many Sandusky players who have gone onto play at the next level. Many have stayed connected to the sport through coaching, as well. But in general, DeMott touts the academic success of his program, and the pride he has in the citizens his former players have grown to be.
“A lot of our former players, they’ve all done a lot of really good things,” DeMott said. “I couldn’t be prouder. There were quite a few there (at USA). It meant a lot to see them.”
One former player-turned-coach is Wayne State women’s basketball coach Carrie Lohr, who has set records of her own. She’s in her 12th season at Wayne State, and has won nearly 200 games. She became the program’s all-time winningest coach in 2019.
She counts DeMott as one of her biggest influences.
"Al is truly one of the best coaches in the state of Michigan," Lohr said. "I believe he could coach any team or sport to its highest potential. Al has an unwavering dedication and passion for the game of basketball and teaching young people. He is selfless, positive, consistent, knowledgeable and truly cares about the players he leads.
“Playing for Coach Al DeMott is still some of my best basketball memories ever. He has truly made a positive impact on my life as he has done for so many who have worn the Sandusky jersey. I wouldn't be where I am today without his mentorship. I am forever grateful to him and his support of me long after I left the court."
With the record behind him, DeMott now hopes the focus can return to this year’s team, which is 9-2 with its losses coming by a combined five points.
It’s clear he’s excited about this group, as the energy in his voice ratcheted up when asked about his players.
“I’ve got an awesome group to coach,” DeMott said. “They’re really good, smart, hard workers. They want to be successful, and they really like to play together. They love playing together. They’re a special group.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Sandusky girls basketball coach Al DeMott stands alongside his current team after they helped him break the MHSAA record for girls basketball victories Friday at Unionville-Sebewaing. (Middle) The USA scoreboard celebrated DeMott’s accomplishment. (Below) Players line up to congratulate DeMott on his milestone win. (Photos courtesy of Sandusky High School.)